There is only one water taxi a day to Corozel and it goes from an unnamed pier somewhere on the back of the Island.
Corozel used to be a popular destination, but now the regular water taxis go straight to Chetumal on the Mexican Border bypassing it. When I tell people I want to go to Corozel and not Chetumal they seem surprised, but this will take me into the Northern part of mainland Belize from which I can gradually travel south and hopefully see most of what is on my wish list along the way.
I’m not sure where the Pier is and I find the heat in the middle of the day stifling so I take a taxi.
As expected there are mostly only locals waiting while the boat “Thunderbolt” is being loaded up. Someone has bought a new mattress and I chuckle as it is strapped to the top of the boat! I wonder if it came from San Pedro or if its owner went all the way to Belize City to buy it and has been island hopping with mattress in tow!
Someone else is bringing their dog and I watch it being zipped into a hold all bag and also placed somewhere on the outside of the boat! I gulp and am distressed to see this, but someone next to me points out that this is simply the Belizean way! I can’t bear to think of the poor dog’s trip, but I guess he did seem quite happy to get in the bag!
While I sit on a nearby bollard watching all the activity I realise how remarkably chilled and relaxed I am feeling. As I bask in the moment I contemplate my trip so far and it occurs to me with astonishment that I’ve been in Belize for a week now and have not witnessed one angry word, not one act of aggression or even slight frustration by anyone; not even a mother being slightly annoyed at her child or a couple bickering! I cannot think of one display of negative energy. Even the incident with Peppa was met with laid back acceptance by everyone involved including me! This really is a remarkable country with remarkably laid back people.
I am not, however, the only traveller getting on the boat and I enjoy talking to three French people from Quebec who are cycling around Mexico and Belize for a month. They’ve decided to cut their trip around Belize short and are returning to Mexico as the roads here are not conducive to safe and comfortable riding due to the many pot holes and lack of hard shoulder.
We exchange travel stories and they bring up that thing that happened in the UK back in June…. “Oh Yes, that was it! BREXIT!!” Argh! Here we go again!! However, they aren’t even sure which countries make up the United Kingdom so I spin some political bullshit and we eventually move on to more interesting topics.
The boat trip takes two hours and only stops off at one other place, Sarteneja, which is a ship building village. Soon after, we arrive at Corozel and I’m quickly accosted by a taxi driver. I have accommodation booked but don’t know where it is so I accept a lift chatting with the driver as we go.
The Hotel Maya is situated on the outskirts of town right on the water front and I immediately like the lady, Rosita, who greets me warmly when I arrive. The Hotel Maya costs no more than the other hotel’s I have stayed in so far but the standard is so much better. The whole hotel, including the bedrooms is brightly painted and well maintained. My bed is made up in crisp white linen and not only do I have a TV, but I also have a fridge!
It is quite a pleasant little town which surrounds a square and it has a little market. Albert, who has a market stall is friendly and we chat while I buy some fruit from him.
However there isn’t a lot to do here and my taxi driver has already told me not to bother visiting the nearby Maya Ruins which were on my list of things to do. I don’t really find a favourite restaurant or bar with wifi to hang out at which has been my habit in Caye Caulker and San Pedro and I retreat to my room on the first evening with a pizza and a couple of beers and think, as I’ve booked two nights here, tomorrow is going to be a wasted day.
However the next morning I discover from Rosita and her sister Sylvia that indeed the Maya sites are worth visiting, especially Santa Rita which is extremely important in the history of the Mayan people and it is within walking distance of the town. The sisters are actively involved in promoting local Tourism and the Maya Culture. They show me a video clip of an annual festival that is held at Santa Rita which involves a lot of dancing and depicts a Mayan marriage ceremony. They proudly introduce me to their handsome young maintenance guy who is the groom in the video.
The ladies give me directions and tell me to speak to Mr Sutherland, the caretaker when I get there. They talk very highly of him and I look forward to seeing my first Mayan site.
It is a long walk in the swelltering heat and there are no signposts. I ask a few people along the way and no-one is really sure where it is but I think I’m getting close to it. The heat however is intense and I’m not sure how much further I can go. Just as I’m contemplating turning back in search of shade, a car pulls up beside me and it is Rosita. She is going somewhere else but tells me to jump in and takes me the rest of the way. I am so relieved!
Mr Sutherland is indeed there and seems surprised when I speak to him by name but he takes my fee and settles down to tell me the history of this very special Mayan site. He is a very sombre man and tells me the story in a rather serious manner. It is the sacred place of marriage and was where the marriage of Princess Zazal Ha to Gonzala Guerrero took place.
Gonzala was the first European to be accepted into the Maya Culture, which was remarkable as he was one of a handful of Spaniards shipwrecked nearby. The rest of his crew were apparently sacrificed and eaten! However Gonzala somehow pleased the King who granted permission for him to marry Princess Zazal Ha, therefore creating through their offspring the very first mixed Maya tribe – the Mestiza that are still very much a part of Belizean culture now.
Belizean culture however is made up of so many different ethnic groups due to its colourful past which includes the invasion by the Romans, the Spaniards, Colonisation by the English and Slavery. Mr Sutherland tells me that he has been married for thirty seven years, has six children and thirteen grandchildren and there are at least five different tribes apparent in their family. He explains their characteristics being the colour of their skin, eyes and the texture of their hair and indeed I have observed already that Belizean people come in all shapes, sizes and colour and do not have any one prominent characteristic.
While the first language of Belize is English due to its colonial past everyone seems to belong to a “tribe” and will talk in their own tribal language to each other, including Creole, Garifuna and Spanish. Their English is heavily accented and I sometimes find it difficult to understand, but as time goes on I’m growing accustomed to it as I am to them frequently switching languages.
I enjoy talking to Mr Sutherland, albeit when he decides he has talked to me enough he abruptly stops talking and seems to go into his own little world. I take this as a cue to go wandering around the site, which isn’t big, but impressive and is void of other tourists, no doubt having been told not to bother coming by the local taxi driver!
Later I try to visit the Old Customs House which is recommended in the Lonely Planet book but it is closed until further notice and the Tourist Information Kiosk which advertises fishing trips and opening times is also closed and looks like it has been for some time.
I realise funds are scarce and toursim is relatively new to Belize, but this little town with such a significant Maya site on its door step really should be given a helping hand to be educated about Tourism and placed on the Tourist Map.
Back at Hotel Maya I especially enjoy my breakfasts each morning. They serve TEA!
TTEEAA!! TTTEEEAAA!! REAL TEA! I AM SO HAPPY?!!!
People who know me know that I do not function in the morning until I have at least two cups of tea!! Tea is my lifeline! I cannot become a human being until I have tea! Woe betide the person who deprives me of my tea or dares to talk to me before I have my tea!!…………You get the idea!
I’ve received much teasing, a lovely “Tea” poster and many tongue in cheek greetings cards relating to tea over the years due to the widely accepted knowledge of my addiction to tea!
But catering to the American market Belize doesn’t understand tea and on the few occasions I have tried to order tea I have been served tepid water with a floating fruit flavoured bag in it! I even tried asking for a cup of hot water and using my own tea bags, but that didn’t work so I had to concede defeat in the early days of Caye Caulker and since then I have been drinking the strong coffee that they serve for breakfast.
Coffee does horrible things to my digestive system, which I wont go into and it is less than satisfactory but needs must!
So when I discover that Rosita and Sylvia serve real tea (well it is Earl Grey, which isn’t my favourite, but my God! It’s Tea!!) I almost wet myself! When it is brought to me in a proper tea pot with real milk (coffee is served with the dried powder coffee mate) and I take my first mouthful…..well all I can say is the person at the table next to me was heard to say:
“I’ll have what she’s having!!”’
I love talking to Rosita and Sylvia.
Sylvia tells me about her Grandparents who married when her Grandmother was 14 years old and were married for seventy years until her Grandmother, who was apparently quite a character, died.
Her Grandfather was a very quiet man who never said much. At her Grandmothers Wake, he was asked about the secret of their marriage. Sylvia tells me that his answer was that they never argued once in seventy years and that when he married her he knew she had a big character that needed to grow, so he took the back seat and let her be who she wanted to be! Now there’s a man who knew his place!!
Rosita and I share hotel stories and sympathise with each other over the difficulties of trying to keep your head above water. She has run her hotel for twenty seven years, but she only makes a modest living out of it. We discuss the merits of Bookings.com and Trip Advisor.
Both are new to her and she tells me that this new market and way of receiving feedback has opened her up to an aggressive traveller and travel attitude that she has never experienced before in her life.
I worry for her, being such a gentle Belizean as I know first hand how the internet has indeed opened service establishments up to a new and very ugly breed of people.
These people I call Cowardly Keyboard Warriors, who viciously attack establishments on a very personal level but very publicly via the internet. These same people don’t have the guts to talk directly to the service provider at the time of their stay or service experience and say nothing until they get in front of their keyboards!!
The following morning I reluctantly prepare to leave these two lovely ladies and as they flag down the passing bus for me, we exchange warm hugs and say our sad farewells.